|Members of Amarayoni Nqobile Mbanjwa, Smanga Ngubane, Zamo Mbutho, Sipho Nxumalo, Thulane Galane and their agent Sfiso Ntuli.|
“When I was younger, my mother sent me to buy vegetables, but I went and bought a guitar instead. I was punished severely and the kids at school heard about the incident and they gave me the nickname Sginzi (meaning guitar).”
This is what 59-year-old Sipho Nxumalo, co-founder of Amarayoni, said after their performance at The Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein, Joburg. They performed audience favourites such as: Summer Time, Ain’t no Sunshine, Nontsokolo, Meadowlands, Lizzy, Voetsek, Mbube and Abe lungu.
The five-men amarabi group had just arrived from performing in Port Elizabeth, and one their members, group co-founder Zamo Mbutho (55) prepares to jet off to New York. He is going to join Angelique Kidjo to perform at Kennergy Hall.
As the group sat down to have a meal after their performance, Thulane Galane (40), who is also a pastor at Rolim Ministries in Roodepoort, urged everyone to observe a moment of silence as he blessed the food.
“We’ve been singing together for 10 years. We meet at Zamo’s place every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays to practise. With the group, I’ve been to Benin and Mexico,” said Thulane.
The group released their first album in 2000 called Lions, then produced another one called Azzapella in 2003 and Zamo released his in August 2014 called Zamo at Last. “The album is doing well. I perform at the airport on Fridays from 3pm to 7pm to promote it. Metro FM and Ukhozi FM played some of its songs and I was interviewed by Power FM recently. I also did an interview on SABC 2’s Weekend Live. So, so far, so good,” said Zamo, father of two girls and two boys.
So where did it all begin?
Back in the 1980, there was a talent competition at Himalaya Hotel where Sipho was a drummer for a group called Reunited. “I started music at a tender age of 12. My father was a priest of a Zion church and I used to play the drum and lead the choir. I come from a big family at Eshowe in KZN. I have 18 siblings,” said Sipho, divorced father of eight kids.
“I met Zamo at the competition called Lion Lager Road Show. He was a vocalist and didn’t have a band, so I backed him. We ended up winning the competition that night. So from there sa hlangan’e jozi and Amarayoni was born.”
Other members of the group are Smanga Ngubane (40), who is expecting a baby boy with his girlfriend. He sings first turner. Nqobile Mbanjwa (38) sings base. He said he dropped out of the group from 2003 to 2008 because of overseas work -- singing and acting. When he is not at home with his wife and one child, and not with Amarayoni, Ngobile is busy with his freelance work as a studio sound engineer and music producer. He said he could not explain how being part of Amarayoni feels like. “It’s hard to explain. It’s home. It feels like home. It’s family,” said Nqobile.
Amarayoni said they were formed in the early 1990s when Zamo came with the idea. “I got tired of back-up singing and I told the guys that how about we start our own thing – just voices, without instruments. So I said to them ‘Let’s just sing boys,’ and we all agreed,” he said.
“We are not just singing for ourselves, we are singing for God. Many people enjoy our music.”
The group has backed, sang and performed with musical legends such as Chicco, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Mariam Makema, Caifus Semenya, Mercy Phakela, Brenda Fassie, Stimella, Johny Glegg for 10 years and Rebecca Malope to name a few.
“There isn’t a place overseas that I don’t know … France, Mexico, you name it,” said Sipho. I couldn’t help but notice the interesting and beautiful beads on his head and asked what they represent: “Mina ngi ibhinca, I’m a real Zulu man.”
The group has had its fair share of challenges. They all admit that it has not been an easy journey but passion and the love of what they do, as well as the support they receive from supporters, kept them going. “There’s still a lot that we want to achieve. We’re looking for someone who can dress us,” joked Zamo. “But on a more serious note, we need a platform. We need to be heard. Most radio stations don’t play our music, they say we are not their genre. We sing isicathamiya … African jazz. We also need a manager. We need someone who is experienced and well connected who will understand our music and manage the business. At the moment we are trying to do everything ourselves and it’s like pushing a car with a hand brake on, and we’ve managed to push it this far,” said Zamo.
Asked where they could be reached at, Sipho, who seems to be the funny man of the group, said: I said ngi ibhinca, I’m not on Twitter. I don’t tweet. You tweet yourself. I don’t have time for that. When I’m not with the group, I’m alone.”
For more information on the group, their album, or to book them, contact Zamo Mbutho by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article was also published in Sun Buzz, Daily Sun.